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Unlawful assembly

By: Shivendra Pratap Singh

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Section 141 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) defines the offense of “unlawful assembly.” Section 144 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) addresses individuals who are part of an unlawful assembly and are armed with deadly weapons. If someone joins such an assembly with weapons or objects that can cause death when used offensively, they can face up to two years of imprisonment, a fine, or both. This section intensifies the punishment compared to Section 143 due to the heightened threat posed by the presence of weapons.

Unlawful assembly

Unlawful assembly, as per Section 141 IPC, refers to a group of five or more individuals with a shared intent to commit a specified illegal act. According to this section, when five or more people come together with a common object, and their assembly is with the intention of committing an offense, or of making such a disturbance or breach of peace, or of committing any wrongful act, they are said to be members of an unlawful assembly.

Section 144 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) deals with individuals joining an unlawful assembly while armed with deadly weapons. The main highlights are:

Illegal Objects of an Unlawful Assembly:

  1. Intimidate the Government using criminal force.
  2. Resist the execution of legal processes.
  3. Commit an offence.
  4. Forcefully possess or dispossess property.
  5. Compel someone to perform illegal acts.

Criteria for a Member of an Unlawful Assembly:

  1. The individual must know the unlawful nature of the assembly, as detailed in Section 141 IPC.
  2. They should intentionally join the assembly or, if they joined unknowingly, should continue participating after becoming aware of its nature.
  3. To be found guilty under Section 144 IPC, it’s not enough to just be present; one has to actively commit or neglect an act they’re obligated to do.

In essence, IPC 144 is a more severe version of Section 143. It specifically deals with individuals in unlawful assemblies who carry weapons capable of causing death. Conviction can result in up to 2 years imprisonment, a fine, or both. This offence is cognizable, bailable, and triable by any Magistrate.

Essential Ingredients of Unlawful Assembly:

  1. A gathering of five or more persons.
  2. They share a common purpose or intention.
  3. The intent behind the assembly must be to commit an offense, create a disturbance or breach of peace, or perform any wrongful act.

Punishments:

  1. Being a member of an unlawful assembly is punishable under Section 143 IPC, which can result in imprisonment for up to six months, a fine, or both.
  2. The offense is considered more grave if the assembly resorts to or threatens with force or violence. In such cases, punishment, as outlined in Section 144 IPC, can extend to two years of imprisonment, a fine, or both.

Principle of Joint Liability: As per Section 149 IPC, if any member of the unlawful assembly commits an offense or wrongful act aligned with the group’s common objective, every member of that group can be held accountable for that deed.

Clarification: An assembly of five or more people is not inherently unlawful. It becomes unlawful when the group’s shared intent involves breaking the law, causing a public disturbance, or performing any wrongful act. The provision in Section 141 IPC emphasizes the gravity of crimes committed by groups with a shared unlawful purpose.

Purpose of unlawful assembly

The purpose of an unlawful assembly is to commit an offense, make a disturbance or breach of peace, or commit any wrongful act. The members of an unlawful assembly come together with a common object that is illegal or against the public interest. Their intention is to carry out the object of the assembly, which may include acts of violence, vandalism, rioting, or other forms of criminal activity.

The unlawful assembly may be formed for various purposes, such as to protest against a particular law, policy, or decision, to support a particular cause or movement, to incite violence, or to engage in criminal activities such as theft, looting, or arson. The purpose of an unlawful assembly is to achieve its objective by using force or violence or by creating fear and intimidation.

The purpose of the law is to maintain public order and safety. Unlawful assemblies can disrupt the peace and tranquility of a community, and their actions can cause harm to people and property. Therefore, the law seeks to prevent and punish such activities to ensure that the fundamental rights and freedoms of individuals are protected, and the public order is maintained.

The law serves as a deterrent to those who may be inclined to form such groups and engage in illegal activities. It also provides a legal framework for the authorities to take action against such groups and individuals who pose a threat to the safety and security of the community.

In summary, the purpose of an unlawful assembly is to engage in illegal activities, disrupt public order and safety, and create fear and intimidation. The purpose of the law is to prevent and punish such activities to maintain public order and safety, protect individual rights and freedoms, and ensure the rule of law.

Presence in unlawful assembly

Presence in an unlawful assembly, even without participation in its unlawful activities, can lead to liability under the law. Under Section 149 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), if any member of an unlawful assembly commits an offense in the furtherance of the common object of the assembly, then every person who is a member of that assembly is guilty of that offense.

Therefore, merely being present in an unlawful assembly can lead to criminal liability, even if the person did not actively participate in the commission of the offense. The law imposes a duty on every member of an unlawful assembly to prevent the commission of the offense, and failure to do so can result in liability.

It is essential to note that the law recognizes a distinction between a lawful and unlawful assembly. The right to peaceful assembly is a fundamental right guaranteed under the Indian Constitution. The law permits people to assemble peacefully and express their views and opinions freely, subject to reasonable restrictions that may be imposed in the interest of public order and safety.

However, if an assembly becomes unlawful, and its members engage in criminal activities, the law imposes criminal liability on every member of the assembly. Therefore, it is crucial for people to exercise caution while participating in any assembly, to ensure that they do not become part of an unlawful assembly and inadvertently become liable for any offense committed by other members of the group.

Presence in an unlawful assembly can lead to criminal liability under the law. The law imposes a duty on every member of an assembly to prevent the commission of the offense, and failure to do so can result in liability. It is essential for people to exercise caution while participating in any assembly and ensure that they do not become part of an unlawful assembly.

Presence of a person in that assembly is the most vital fact to decide his liability for the commencement of that offence. In Baladin v. State of Uttar Pradesh, AIR1956 SC 181, the supreme court expressed that mere presence in an assembly does not make a person, who is present, a member of an unlawful assembly. If it is shown that he had done something or omitted to do something which would make him a member of an unlawful assembly, or unless the case falls under Section 142 IPC.

It must be proved that he was one of the persons constituting the assembly and he entertained long with (other members of the assembly) the common object as defined by Section 141 IPC.

Overt act

When a member of an unlawful assembly commits an overt act that furthers the group’s common objective, it’s termed an act in pursuance of a common object. The Indian Penal Code (IPC) states that if a member carries out any act that aligns with the unlawful assembly’s goal and it’s an offense or a wrongful act, then every member of that group will be accountable for it. This concept is the principle of joint liability.

An overt act can be any act that is done to carry out the common object of the unlawful assembly. For example, if the common object of an assembly is to burn down a building, an overt act could be the act of pouring kerosene on the building or lighting a matchstick to ignite the fire. Similarly, if the common object of the assembly is to cause harm to a particular individual or group, an overt act could be the act of assaulting that individual or group.

It is important to note that the overt act need not be committed by every member of such an assembly. It is sufficient if one or more members of the assembly commit an overt act in furtherance of the common object, and all the members of the assembly shall be held liable for that act.

The principle of joint liability is based on the idea that the members of an unlawful assembly act in concert to achieve a common objective, and therefore, they are all responsible for the consequences of their actions. The law seeks to deter people from participating in unlawful assemblies and engaging in criminal activities by imposing strict liability on all members of the assembly for any offense committed in furtherance of the common object.

To sum up, an overt act in line with a common object denotes an action undertaken by a member of an unlawful assembly that advances the shared goal of that group. The principle of joint liability makes all members of the assembly liable for any offense committed in furtherance of the common object, even if they did not commit the overt act themselves. The law seeks to deter people from participating in unlawful assemblies and engaging in criminal activities by imposing strict liability on all members of the assembly.

An individual must commit some overt act to be implicated for the offense carried out by the unlawful assembly. In the case of Masalti v. State of U.P., AIR 1965 SC 202, the Supreme Court determined that there should be evidence showing the individual committed an overt illegal act or neglected a duty unlawfully, in line with the assembly’s common objective. This principle was reaffirmed by the Supreme Court in Om Prakash Vs. State of Haryana, (2014) 5 SCC 753.

Punishments for Unlawful Assembly:

  1. Section 143 I.P.C.
    • Offense: Being a member of an unlawful assembly.
    • Punishment: Up to six months imprisonment, fine, or both.
  2. Section 144 I.P.C.
    • Offense: Joining an unlawful assembly armed with a deadly weapon capable of causing death.
    • Punishment: Up to two years imprisonment, fine, or both.
  3. Section 145 I.P.C.
    • Offense: Joining or remaining in an unlawful assembly even after being commanded to disperse.
    • Punishment: Up to two years imprisonment, fine, or both.
  4. Section 149 I.P.C.
    • Offense: If an unlawful assembly commits a crime, every member aware of the potential for that crime is deemed guilty of the committed offense.
    • Punishment: Equivalent to the punishment for the committed offense.

These sections emphasize the significance of maintaining public order and discourage group offenses, making each member accountable for collective actions.

Freedom of Assembly in the Indian Constitution:

The Indian Constitution enshrines the right to freedom of assembly as a fundamental right under Article 19. Here’s a brief note on it:

  1. Article 19(1)(b): This article guarantees to all citizens the right “to assemble peaceably and without arms.”
  2. Nature of the Right: The freedom permits individuals to gather and express their collective ideas, opinions, and concerns. It is intrinsic to a democratic society, enabling public meetings, processions, and parades.
  3. Restrictions: The Constitution allows the State to impose reasonable restrictions on this right in the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India or public order. This is specified under Article 19(3).
  4. Provisions and Clarifications:
    • Assemblies should be unarmed and peaceful.
    • There’s no inherent right to assemble on government land or private property without permission.
    • The assembly should not disturb public order or threaten the unity, integrity, and sovereignty of the nation.
  5. Legal Context:
    • Under Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) 1973, a magistrate can prohibit an assembly if it is believed it might disrupt public peace.
    • Section 141 of the Indian Penal Code defines when an assembly (of five or more persons) becomes “unlawful.”

In essence, while the Indian Constitution assures the right to assemble, this freedom is not absolute and is subject to restrictions to ensure public order and national integrity.

shivendra pratap singh advocate

Shivendra Pratap Singh

Advocate (Lucknow)

You can consult on Criminal, Civil, Matrimonial, Writ, Service matters, Property, Revenue and RERA related issues.

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